Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Oy Vey Sina

As the summer is here, I have been spending every Shabbos in the country. Like almost every other person in Boro Park, I have been making the trek on Friday afternoons from Brooklyn to various bungalow colonies in the Catskills. The particular bungalow colony where I have been spending my time is located a short 15 minutes walking distance from the village of Kiryas Yoel, which is a village of more than 25,000 Chasidic Jews (primarily Satmar) at the base of the Catskills.

This Sunday, after having a particularly warm Shabbos in the bungalow colony, I made the trip further into the mountains to visit the Aleksander Rebbe. Whenever I got to his bungalow colony and camp, I was greeted by the Aleksander Rebbe’s brother, Rav Burech Zinger, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Tiferes Shmiel d’Aleksander. During the summer, the yeshiva continues to operate on the grounds of the rebbe’s bungalow colony. After walking around the grounds of the camp, I made it to the rebbe’s bungalow.

The rebbe came and met me in the side room of his bungalow, which houses his summer library. Because most people who don’t work in the city have been in the country for the past four weeks, I haven’t seen the rebbe and his family for more than a month. It was nice to be able to sit and talk with him about various topics of interest for both of us.

The conversation between the rebbe and me started out on the topic of respecting differences between varying groups in the Jewish community. In recent years, sizable numbers of Teimani Jews have come to America, seeking refuge from the Islamic extremism of many in their home country. Upon coming to America, they interesting often take up residence among the various Chasidic centers of the New York area. Because of the striking difference of their dress, many pressure them to dress like the Chasidim around them. The rebbe said that he makes sure the Teimanim in his yeshiva and at his camp are able to dress in their traditional clothes if they choose, allowing them a free and open environment to be themselves. The fathers of the boys have commented to him that this is the first place where they have seen someone so open to making sure that the boys are comfortable being exactly who they are. In addition to opening up ourselves to making sure that the Teimanim are comfortable being themselves, the rebbe also said that he would like to see all frum (religious) families in Boro Park and elsewhere open their doors to at least one non-frum family, draw them close, and show them what true Yiddishkeit is all about. He said that if every family were able to do this, it would show results beyond our wildest dreams.

After discussing various issues regarding kiruv and Jewish diversity, we began to discuss the various requirements of kibbud av, or bringing honor to one’s parents. We talked about the requirement, and whether or not it is different from the general requirement of respecting and showing appreciation to one who has done good things for you or taken care of you. We also talked about the issues surrounding adoption in the Jewish community. Because there are strict rules regarding touch between non-related members of the opposite gender, as well as restrictions on how and when people of the opposite gender may be secluded with one another, adoption creations many problems. Reb Moshe Feinstein zt”l, the leading American Jewish legal decider, was very much against adoption in the Jewish community due to the complications and possible laxities in halacha (Jewish law) that could result.

The day that I visited the rebbe happened to be the yortzeit (anniversary of the death) of the Nesivos Sholom, the previous Slonimer Rebbe. The Nesivos Sholom, in addition to many things, was very much into chinuch (education), and the general derech halimud in yeshivas and other Jewish schools. Because one learns the works of deceased tzadikim (righteous people) on their yortzeits, the rebbe had been learning various works of the Nesivos Sholom since the night before. It is not a secret among those in the Chasidish community that many educational institutions have serious problems with imparting critical thinking and intellectualism to their students. Also, many of those that succeed in doing this limit their student base to only the best and brightest students. The rebbe said that we must remember, especially in a time of such crisis as today, that those with the greatest struggle in learning are the ones with the most to offer, and that giving up on a single child is to give up on an entire future of fruitful years and descendents from that person.

The discussion with the rebbe led to very important lessons for today, as today is Tisha B’av, the day of mourning for the destruction of the beis hamikdosh (temple). The second temple was destroyed because of sinas chinam, or baseless hatred, between one Jew and another. Furthermore, the Gemara says that if we do not see the active rebuilding of the temple in our lifetime, it is as if we have destroyed it ourselves. If we as a people continue to allow sectors amongst us to treat other groups of Jews as inferior because of their practices and customs, and sit by while our children suffer in a failing education system, we fail at pushing our world to new heights to reach its potential. On this important day, may we truly move beyond our gashmius (physicality) so that we may soar to new heights, culminating with the rebuilding of the beis hamikdosh.